Democratising Fashion Sustainability with Fashion Roundtable

On Saturday 25th May, Fashion Roundtable hosted Democratising Fashion Sustainability, a morning at Mortimer House. Joined by Clare Press, Sustainability Editor at Large for Vogue Australia, presenter of Wardrobe Crisis Podcast and Global Ambassador for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular Initiative, was joined by Founder of Fashion Roundtable Tamara Cincik and Sara Ali, Fashion Roundtable’s luxury and emerging markets experts.

The event looked to join the dots between what we wear and how we can be truly ethical. It intended to deconstruct why fashion is a global conversation, the threads of colonialism and workshop solutions and commitments to be more empowered in democratising our choices as consumers. Attendees enjoyed an intimate Q&A session with Clare followed by a series of workshops.

What can we learn from Clare? Her messages resonate with those that may not even be akin to the sustainable fashion industry but simply beginning to dip their toes in the realms of sustainability as a broad topic. Focusing on the positive, Clare noted it is great news that trends are becoming increasingly obsolete as we focus on timeless fashion pieces. She also shared that for those getting started in sustainability, a great method is to locate a point that can act as a catalyst for change – fashion indeed being one of those, because we wear it every single day!

Discussion surrounded how we need to navigate our own sustainable path within the confines we work in and learn to not smash down the industry, but instead elevate and better it.  With this, it is essential to remember it employs over 60 million garment workers and provides a basic income for workers across the globe.

Mrs Press top tips for inciting change are to use sustainable fashion and our powers as consumers as a tool for social change to shape and nurture the current conversations. Within that, Clare advises to pride access over ownership and promotes the sharing economy with rental wardrobes. Secondly, she touched upon the influence of localism and our decisions to choose local suppliers, retailers and distributors to drive change. Thirdly, the final tip was to use Instagram as a tool for empowerment of ourselves and others. Using the social media platform as a source for knowledge, connecting with like-minded people, discovering new sustainable brands and learning more from the organisations leading transformation in the industry!

The event focused on three main workshops held by Clare, Tamara and Sara, each of which posed with a central question.

Discussions around what democratising fashion truly means to us and honing in on what is HER story? There is no longer a velvet rope to access fashion as high street retailers churn out fast fashion garments from the runway. The industry follows the trajectory of the woman who wears it (editors/models/purchasers) but how often do we hear the story of the garment worker, from Leicester, to Bangladesh, Vietnam and everywhere in-between?

Secondly, we turned attention to how we leverage the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals as a tool for good to incite change at local and global levels? How do we hold those in power to account to deliver results? 
The consensus was that we must start at a local level to address the problems closest to home. Tamara delivered the truths behind the current levels of poverty within the United Kingdom which fall short of aim 1 of the SDG’s – eradicating global poverty. The most at risk group within the UK is currently females aged 17 and under, sitting alongside the fact that 4 million children in families are also living in or are vulnerable to poverty. Her powerful narrative questioned how we can maintain a flawed system of our shopping habits, business decisions and minimal expenditure on international development (0.7% of gross national income) and yet achieve any of the sustainable development goals at home, let alone across the world!

The final workshop led by Sara Ali, questioned the intrinsic link between culture and identity in sustainable fashion? Sara explored how the essence of colonialism has manifested itself within outsourcing operations and global supply chain systems. Additionally, we focused on the salient reasoning as to why we must unravel cultural appropriation at the executive level to tackle the misuse of identity to sell stock. Recent examples such as Dior’s misuse of the East African Kitenge cloth in its 2020 Cruise collection epitomise this issue. Conversations also turned to why countries such as the UK must be wary of sending unused stock to Africa as it is creating damage for their textile industries. Casting our eye to the minorities, many voices are missing at the decision making level, the distortion in the boardroom between gender, race and generation must be tackled to create a truly sustainable corporate governance structure within the fashion industry.

The sheer diversity and background of attendees was inspiring to observe and encouraging in the sense that these conversations are now taking place outside of the industry. The quote that best summarises the fantastic morning was delivered by Sara from Dr Maya Angelou which I will take away “Do the best with what you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”.

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